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Glitz devours substance in irksome “Sex and the City 2”

And you thought Liberace was flamboyant.

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”
~~Henry David Thoreau

In 2008, “Sex and the City” was a nice surprise to fans who were expecting a rehash of a TV show that ended exquisitely. The outrageous fashions were there, but they played understudy to the authentic problems of four women (OK, three) approaching their 40s: struggling marriages, men afraid of commitment, balancing careers and motherhood. All the things that made “Sex and the City” a sincere endeavor are absent from the farfetched,  annoying, unclever sequel. (Everyone saw this coming, but still.) The dew’s off the rose.

In case anyone had doubts that “Sex and the City 2” would rocket past “over-the-top” into “ridiculous,” the opening scenes ease them. Director Michael Patrick King presents us with a wedding so ostentatious — did I mention the swans? — that it’s appropriate the entertainment is Liza Minelli (sporting some fierce getaway sticks) bellowing out Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies.” Films that begin with such razzle-dazzle make me suspicious; the rest of “Sex and the City 2” succeeded in making me nauseous. If there’s no advertisement for the dangers of conspicuous consumption, this motion picture is it. The clothes are no longer clothes, they are circus costumes (SJP, we expect this from you, but what have you done to Kristin Davis?), and the jewelry is worse. There are Buckingham Palace chandeliers less ornate Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) earrings. Bold is one thing, but getups that swallow up the characters and the plot are another. By the ending, “Sex and the City 2” has devolved into the fashion show from Hell.

That’s enough ranting about the clothes, which fashionista fans probably j’adore*. There are some half-hearted storylines somewhere in the folds of those billowing M.C. Hammer pants Carrie (Parker) wears: Carrie and Big (Chris Noth, whose limited charm becomes grating fast) have settled into married life, and he’s become a couch potato. She’s convinced they’ve turned into a boring married couple although a) they’ve been married two years and b) their collective fortune totals more than the GNP of Guam. Charlotte (Davis) has discovered that kids are a lot less compliant in real life than they are on the covers of parenting magazines. Miranda, still married to Steve (David Eigenberg, always too nice and normal to belong), has a new boss (Ron White) who hates women. Samantha’s busy staving off menopause with remedies she lifted from Suzanne Somers. She’s on the road to tricking her body into thinking its years younger because a hot flash in the middle of some mattress dancing is not on her to-do list. This is what we get in the first 45 minutes of “Sex and the City 2,” and King, sensing this won’t last long, ships the girls off all-expenses-paid to Abu Dhabi. In the Middle East they do things like ride camels in the desert wearing platforms and sporting breast-baring tops in conservative Muslim company. (Samantha even glad-handles the Mr. Happy of a suitor in a restaurant.) What’s meant to come across as fish-out-of-water comedy translates into a disrespect for the country — which these women are guests in — and the culture. Flaunting their wealth in a place where women have to lift their burkas to eat French fries is disdainful.

The costumes and disrespect aside, isn’t there anything redeeming or at least remotely funny in this movie? Wrack my brain I did, and it produced a memory of the sole sincere, touching scene: Miranda and Charlotte, over drinks, discuss the difficulties of motherhood — Charlotte’s thought after considering Harry (Evan Handler) might cheat with the nanny is “I can’t lose the nanny!” — and give a salute to the women who do it without help. All the rest of the dialogue is hokey and punny, including an unforgivable play on Jude Law’s name. The girls’ karaoke sing-a-long to “I Am Woman” offers a sadly brief glimpse into the camaraderie, the chemistry that made the show and the original film such a rousing success. Before, the clothes mattered less than the friendship. Now, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha are just a bunch of overprivileged fashion slaves.

Grade: D

*Technically it should be “ils adorent,” but I’m working a play on words here.

Review: “Iron Man” (2008)

Truth likes to hide in triteness; great responsibility does trail on the heels of great power. Along the way, people tried to tell billionaire weapons inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that. With all that ice clinking in his lowball of Scotch, he had trouble hearing them — and that’s not counting the times Tony was embarking on his mission to do the horizontal mambo with all 12 Maxim cover models (pity about Miss March). Whatever honorable qualities comic books have taught us to expect in superheroes, they don’t exist in Tony Stark. He’s a horndog with a smart mouth.

Hallelujah! After years of do-gooder types (even the tortured Batman abided a moral), Downey fashions a different hero: a likable jackass who gives his id full control; who flaunts his wealth instead of hiding it; who gives new meaning to the phrase “doing a piece for Vanity Fair.” And if just any old actor played him, that’s all the character would amount to. Because Downey has a Ph.D. in likable jackassery, he goes beyond the surface and dredges up pathos that catches us unaware. The end result is a hero who reinvents himself because he has to, then lets that new persona slowly change his heart. That’s no novel concept, but in a comic book movie it feels like one.

Unforseen circumstances necessitate the reinvention, and director Jon Favreau wastes no time setting up the expected superhero origin story. “Iron Man” hints the ground running: Tony makes an appearance before the U.S. military — including friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard) — in Afghanistan to test out the Jericho, the latest Stark Industries-manufactured weapon. (The expectedly laconic Tony describes it as “the weapon you only have to fire once.”) Afterward, insurgents attack the humvee, igniting an explosion that embeds shrapnel in Tony’s chest and dragging him off to a cave in the desert. Fellow captive Yinsen (Shaun Toub, compelling in a small role) saves his life by implanting an electromagnet in his chest to draw the shrapnel away from his organs. The attack’s mastermind, Raza (Faran Tahir), charges the pair with creating a new missile. Knowing they won’t leave the cave alive, they construct an iron suit that paves the way for escape. The experience leaves Tony with emotional scars that alter his perceptions about war, and he shuts down Stark Industries — to the dismay of his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

None of the remaining action sequences in “Iron Man” — all credibly done, with seams-hidden CGI — match the taut, nerve-snapping tension of Tony’s capture/escape. Since Favreau is shrewd enough to let Downey advance Tony as he sees fit, it barely matters. If anything, the precisely dispersed action helps because it allows for a degree of humor normally not found in the standard bells-and-whistles superhero film. For much of “Iron Man,” the action is played for chuckles, with Downey slinging one-liners only to take crazy pratfalls during disastrous test runs of his suit. (He warns his fire-control robot, called “Dummy,” not to douse him again or he’ll donate him to a city college.) His wit, bemused smirk and impeccable comic timing keep the momentum high and supply a surprisingly in-depth look into Stark’s personality, quirks and all. There’s a line between “witty” and “talky,” and Robert Downey Jr. is an actor who knows how to tease both sides of the tape without ever overstepping.

So Downey is money; this soil has been tilled before. What else makes “Iron Man” a horse of different color? Favreau. He handles the timely backstory with a welcome level of maturity, giving “Iron Man” the feel of a grown-up superhero movie. He doesn’t bully the chemistry between Paltrow and Downey into the obligatory sex scene, nor does Favreau give up the major villain within the first half hour. Favreau also has a script that gives the supporting characters more to do than be props, particularly Obadiah. Bridges would seem a strange choice for a supervillain — until you see him in action. He imbues a question about a newspaper with more menace than Hannibal Lecter’s “Hello, Clarice.” His presence in “Iron Man” is all we need to know that subtlety goes farther than an exploding missile.

Grade: A

Pony ’em up

The fuel powering good ideas (and bad ones too).

Corporate types want you to think that good ideas come from brainstorming, diligent note-taking, focus groups and strategic meetings.

In the real world, they come from alcohol.

OK, maybe that’s not always true. (I seem to remember shaving off my arm hair once after too many Jägerbombs.) But take this little blog, cooked up by Unrulytravllr after a few pints in a Czech pub and a rewatch of “Waxwork II: Lost in Time,” the worst sequel ever made. Terrifically Terrible Cinema, which an amazing number of readers have embraced, got its start after a viewing of that ’80s masterpiece of cheese “Over the Top” and some ghetto screwdrivers (I ran out of orange juice, so orange soda got moved to varsity).

But good ideas need support to keep going, so now I’m asking (tasking?) bloggers and readers for more TTC suggestions. Send me your dreadfully delightful, your wonderfully weird and terrifically terrible ideas — any so-bad-it’s-awesome movie you think deserves TTC treatment. Let ’em rip.

No. 40: “GoodFellas” (1990)

“Fuck you, pay me.” ~~Henry Hill

People who rail about the evils of power are people who don’t have any. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) learned that honest from his father, a working-class schnook made furious by his own powerlessness. The fix for that problem appeared right outside the window of Henry’s Brooklyn bedroom: the Lucchese crime family. These gangsters, with their overstuffed wallets, fine-threaded suits and cowering errand boys, want for nothing because they take everything. That’s as close to omnipotence as a man can get and it’s right in front of Henry. He can’t resist a taste. Who could?

The frightening thing about Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas,” the definitive portrait of Mafia life, is how easily Henry slips into this society of free-flowing cash, limitless influence and tricky, uncrossable lines. There’s no pomp or circumstance — just a job opening that Henry pounces on. He doesn’t look like a hardened criminal because he isn’t one; he’s a kid who wants respect and pocket money. Although epic in terms of scope and talent, “GoodFellas” also feels intensely personal and matter-of-fact, thanks in part to Liotta’s narration and Scorsese’s direction. The director takes pains to demystify mafia life; he peels away the layers until we see what’s really there: a business, one with rules and consequences. For all the talk of respect and family, it’s the money and the power that matter most.

Each of the men Henry works for has a different approach to keeping business booming. Paul “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Sorvino, capable of leveling anyone with a stare) acts as a father figure to Henry, but he didn’t earn his status through kindheartedness. Paulie is a man who moves slowly because he “doesn’t have to move for anybody,” and this capo is straightforward in his dealings. Also in Paulie’s inner circle are his associates, the calculating Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro), who steals for the thrill of it, and armed robber Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci, comical and terrifying), whose explosive temper causes messes that don’t sit well with other wiseguys. Tommy’s anger makes him dangerous, but it’s Jimmy, so calm and mannered, who may be more treacherous. Drawn into this life through her marriage with Henry, Karen (a ferocious Lorraine Bracco) understands the dangers and looks past them. More than that, she gets a charge from them, particularly in the scene — a masterpiece of filmmaking — where Henry leads her into a restaurant through a series of maze-like back entrances and hallways, where the manager produces a primo table as if from thin air. That thrill of having everything at your fingertips is intoxicating.

Scenes like these indicate a director at the height of his creative powers (though he’s an artist who’s his own toughest competitor) and his eye for atypical shots. There’s an eerie close-up of Liotta, his face bathed in the red glow of brakelights, and an even more and artistic) shot of DeVito and De Niro digging up a body shrouded in the same ethereal, otherworldly light. Scorsese also doesn’t shy away from the violence; rather, he lets it blindside us, a precursor of even more shocking scenes to come in “The Departed.” In a particularly unnerving, now-infamous moment, Pesci renders a pen more lethal than a switchblade; in another, he empties his gun into a server who gives him lip. Despite his astonishing ability to underscore feelings with song (“GoodFellas” is aces in that respect), the brutality is usually stark and always unexpected.

Also responsible for netting the film six Oscar nominations is the acting, since the cast of “GoodFellas” remains one of the finest ensembles ever put together. Scorsese continues to bring out the best in De Niro, so quietly lethal as Jimmy, while Pesci rips into Tommy DeVito like a man possessed by the devil himself. Sorvino’s presence is towering enough that he needs little screen time. At the hub of it all is Liotta, who dials down the rage to make Henry the plainspoken storyteller “GoodFellas” needs. It’s his voice that stays with us at the end, when the truth finally blindsides him (and us): The trouble with power is it makes you want more power, and when you get it you’ll do anything to keep it. Consequences be damned.

My thought on today

Best Post Blog-a-thon

Almost four days late and a blog post short — it’s the story of my life, people.

My sincerest apologies for forgetting to click “schedule” on this post, supposed to go out Saturday in accordance with He Shot Cyrus’ Best Post Blog-a-thon. Mea culpa or mea dodoheaded-a? These days, it’s hard to tell.

So mosey on over to this lovely blog to see all the most excellent submissions of my fellow bloggers, and maybe stick around to show some love (or hate) to my pick, my review of “Jindabyne” — selected because I’m of the ilk that believe a movie starring Laura Linney AND Gabriel Byrne is one everyone must see, and rightthishotsecond.

I coulda been a contende– no, wait, I am one!

The truth is I had to restrain — I’m talking duct-tape-on-the-lips, strapped-to-a-chair levels of restraint — the urge to let slip that time-honored ode to Sally Fields’ Oscar speech. But since I imagine roughly 81,236 people have used this already or thought about it, I went with “On the Waterfront.” Because one simply can’t go wrong with a quote from “On the Waterfront.” Mind that rule — it will see you through the tidal waves of everyday life.

The Productivity Machine has got all my parts workin’ overtime today, so I wanted to craft a brief post to say a big, fat, jubilant “YOU ROCK!” to the people who put fingers to keyboards and typed “M. Carter @ the Movies” in not one but four categories — Best Movie Reviewer (I’m getting choked up), Braniac Award (Holy crap, I fooled these people into thinking I was smart!), Best New LAMB and Best Blog (here come the tears).

Considering I started this blog as a way to get my review fix after leaving the newspaper world, I’m beyond ecstatic. And yes, I know everyone says “aw, golly gee it’s just an honor to be nominated,” but when I say it I really mean it. Because when you get to pour your heart and soul and free time into something you love and people recognize that? I daresay there’s no better feeling on Earth than that one.

So to any and every cinephile who nominated this blog, reads it often, or even just stopped by once and thought “eh, it’s kinda cool,” thanks. If you lived closer I’d hug you, but for now let’s leave it at “hug you with words.”

To all the fellow bloggers nominated, this is VINDICATION for all the times we nerded out in normal conversation when someone mentioned “Casablanca” or Nathan Fillion or “Dr. Strangelove.” Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but damn is it sweet.

And to movies, good and bad and especially those terrifically terrible.

Movie That Made Going to the Movies Suck No. 7: “Halloween”

This review of John Carpenter’s horror classic “Halloween” is one in a list of 27 Great Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck, a concept thunk up by Mike at You Talking to Me?. Visit his blog (click the link or the header) for the complete rundown of films.

“Halloween” (1978)

The Boogeyman is a concept that transcends cultural differences. It is part of the human subconscious, this frightening being that stalks us and preys at the precise moment when we are the most vulnerable, when we least expect attack. There are thousands, probably millions, of conceptions of this evil and mysterious creature, but in 1978 a then-small potatoes director named John Carpenter bested even our worst nightmares with Michael Myers. With gray coveralls and a $2 rubber mask, Carpenter created a killer who was everywhere and nowhere at once — and left an indelible mark on the horror genre.

Key to the success — “Halloween” became one of the highest-grossing independent films ever — of Carpenter’s cheaply made masterpiece of scare is the harmonious convergence of elements: a formidable murderer; a spine-tingling score; undeniably human characters; and a focus on psychological terror. The character of Myers (Tony Moran) delivers the goods because he is single-minded in his vision: he wants only to kill. His mask renders his face expressionless, his mouth immobile. He never speaks, and this makes him purely terrifying. Carpenter smartly underscores Myers’ appearances on screen with a spare musical score, written by Carpenter, that relies on just a few quavering notes to play our fear like guitar strings. None of the other characters — including Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Michael’s baby sister and intended victim, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) — get such distinctive treatment. They are Anypeople, and they remind us that evil does not distinguish. Michael Myers breaks them down by playing with their minds, existing at the edges of their vision — note the masterful hedge scene and his appearance outside Laurie’s classroom — popping up and vanishing as if at will. Here Carpenter lets our imaginations do the heavy lifting. There is little blood, and almost no gore, because Carpenter understood what his copycats did not: the real psychological damage is something viewers must do to themselves.

“Halloween,” like many a successful film, inspired innumerable sequels and prequels (thanks to tireless producer Mustapha Akkad), each more disappointing than the last. “Halloween” and “Halloween II,” gore aficionado Rob Zombie’s latest entries in the canon, miss the mark entirely by wallowing in entrails and unnecessarily convoluted plotlines. (“Halloween II” actually included supernatural visions in which Myers’ mother “spoke to him.”) Carpenter’s masterpiece also sparked the 1980s horror craze, populated by such inspired but less effective characters as the hockey mask-wearing Jason Voorhees of the campy “Friday the 13th” series, a mute fellow with mommy issues, and Freddy Kreuger of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” a child killer with knife-capped fingers who made the dreams of teens his hunting grounds. Both franchises devolved into camp (mostly self-referential when the sequels reached double digits) and lacked the bare-bones approach that made the 1978 “Halloween” such a marvel.

Still other horror directors misinterpreted Carpenter’s aims and turned them into a new genre composed entirely of dead teen-agers (including the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” movies), though “Scream” had some luck spinning these clichés — unwittingly popularized by “Halloween” — into pop-culture humor. And still the wannabes missed the mark Carpenter hit so blatantly. They failed to see that all the viscera in the world can’t beat a man in a mask, a walking, talking embodiment of our worst fears, who is both human and immortal.

TTC: “Spacehunter” (1983)

“You have a very enviable life force, a life force you’re going to share with me.” ~~Overdog

Jeff Foxworthy, that sapient nutsheller of things classless, once remarked that “redneck” could be defined as “a glorious absence of sophistication.” While no evidence exists that he was talking about “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” I have my suspicions. Because that phrase was invented for this movie, a 90-minute celebration of space travel camp, hideous costumes (including the clear prototype for Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard suit), hammy repartee and sexual innuendo. Lots of sexual innuendo, enough that Johnson could have cut the music director and just played Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” on loop. Admit it: The title even sounds a little dirty. Just exactly what kind of “forbidden zone” is this strapping space pirate “hunting” in?

Cough, cough. I digress. Portentous movie titles will do that to a red-blooded movie critic. A crime it would be for me to misrepresent “Spacehunter” as soft-core intergalactic porn; director Lamont Johnson’s ambitions aren’t so … below the belt. He works very hard to make this production, which contains all the one-liners Harrison Ford rejected during his tenure as Han Solo and all the costumes and props George Lucas vetoed, thoroughly low-quality and sincerely unsubtle. (The villain wardbrobe budget seems to be roughly equivalent to what John Carpenter spent on that rubber mask and coveralls for “Halloween.”) Not just any leading man will do for a terrifically terrible film, and so Johnson gives us Wolff (Peter Strauss), or He of the Frosted, Silken, Lightly Styled Locks. His chiseled jaw affirms “I’m the swashbuckling hero around these parts,” and that swaggering posture finishes the job. Wolff is the Cap’n Mal Reynolds of the 1980s; he’s always but a hairsbreadth from riddlin’ someone with holes.

Wolff, as his name signals, works alone as a salvage ship captain in this 22nd-century cosmos. He’s content picking up work where he finds it. He’s also careful to leave plenty of time for bedding his hard-bodied robot Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci). On a break from his sheet-rumpling hobby, he intercepts a call for help: Three Earth women were ejected from their space cruise liner when it crashed into a meteor, and they landed on the nearest planet, presided over by Overdog (Michael Ironside), the mother of all eevyill dictators. (Updog is his cousin.) In pursuit of the fetching Earthwomen he runs into Niki (Molly Ringwald when her hair color was found in nature), a smart-mouthed orphan who knows a meal ticket when she sees one. She also needs a Father Figure (“us loners got to stick together” was the first draft of “you complete me”), and Wolff looks better than anyone else. So Niki’s along for the ride, as is Washington (Ernie Hudson), Token Black Guy with Jokes. Soon they’re off to Overdog’s lair, where they’ll tangle with A Pimp Named The Chemist (Hrant Alianak). This guy’s a beaut who provides Earth girls to satisfy his master’s manful needs (he’s been really tryin’ baby…). The Chemist, however, is a pimp with discerning taste, remarking “I hate it when they’re missing limbs.”

Once “Spacehunter” boils down to the smackdown in Overdog’s dwelling, things get supernovas beyond gonzo and the film’s treasures rise to the surface. Behold the shabby joys of an underworld that looks as though it was built in some guy named Tito’s basement! Lamont Johnson obviously spared every expense, bless his C-list heart, for Overdog (whose S&M-styled contraption whispers “Oh No, Baby, I’m Not Compensating for Anything”), The Chemist and the creatures in their steamy hideaway, most of which resemble the product of an orgy involving Fat Bastard’s father, Ursula from “Little Mermaid” and Jabba the Hut. Ironside, sporting a fine pre-“Powder” makeup job, flagrantly delights in his innuendo-laden dialogue about “fusion tubes” and “enviable life forces”; call him a villain if you want, but he’s also a dirty old geezer for time immemorial. Unlike garden-variety dirty old geezers, though, he’s not relegated to flashing direction-giving Good Samaritans — no, Overdog has resources and a lot of spare time. Better still, he has a director who gives him free reign to go all in fast and furious.

That’s what she said.

No. 39: “4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile” (2007)

“Here’s what we’re going to do, OK? We’ll never speak of this again.” ~~Otilia

Communist Romania was not a good place to be a woman. Under the decades-long tyrannical rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu, women were valued chiefly for their ability to produce offspring. The more children a woman produced, the more benefits she reaped; women who had no children were subject to a specialty tax. Living conditions for these children barely mattered. Adoption was not a viable choice, and abortions were a dangerous, illegal one. Ceauşescu’s message was unmistakable: Women were birth machines.

It is this reality that college roommates Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Găbiţa (Laura Vasiliu) must navigate in Cristian Mungiu’s tense, absorbing and inventively shot “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” The film, released a year after “The Lives of Others,” tills similar soil — dictators tend to be cut from the same mold — but Mungiu takes a minimalist approach: realistic dialogue, understated acting and enough haunting shots to merit a frame-by-frame study. The first indication that “4 Months” is something special comes in the way the storyline unfurls. We discover Otilia and Găbiţa are roommates packing for a trip neither seems happy about. Then Otilia knocks on a closed door in her dorm to buy cigarettes — a sure sign of a black market. Otilia also secures a hotel room for the pair and reality starts to sink in: Whatever she’s planning isn’t legal. Marinca’s performance indicates that Otilia, smart and reliable and resourceful, has learned to circumvent the roadblocks Ceauşescu’s mandates have placed in her way. She’s adapted to this world in ways her bumbling, weak-willed roommate has not. When the regime changes, Otilia will not have to. This is quietly compelling acting at its best.

Still later, their full plan comes to light: Otilia is making furtive plans for Găbiţa’s abortion. To be exact, Otilia’s tackling the tasks Găbiţa couldn’t handle, or fixing the instructions she has botched. This includes meeting with the abortionist, known as Mr. Bebe (a blood-freezing Vlad Ivanov), a cold businessman who has no patience for Găbiţa’s lies or her complete ineptitude. (It’s a testament to Vasiliu’s skill that she’s infuriating and still we sympathize with her.) Bebe’s matter-of-fact instructions about the procedure — use a plastic sheet to prevent staining the sheets; don’t dispose of the fetus, whole or “in pieces,” in a dumpster or bury it where dogs can dig it up — are chilling. Ivanov maintains an air of calm that conjures a predator with his prey squarely in range. Later, disgusted with Găbiţa’s stupidity, he threatens to walk away unless both girls pay a much higher price than they anticipated, a sum that has nothing to do with money.

In a less carefully constructed film, Bebe’s intentions might come as a surprise. Cristian Mungiu, however, is a master of mood creation, that delicate, tricky business that has tripped up directors with years more experience than he has. In shot after shot, it’s almost as if Mungiu’s camera is an extension of his brain — he’s that comfortable behind the lens. He has an awe-inspiring way of translating emotions into pictures. And every scene is unique. There’s one shot that cannot be ignored: a seemingly interminable scene where Otilia is stuck at a birthday party the house of her clueless boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean). With his relatives chattering around her, it’s as though Marinca is alone at the table — alone in her worry for Găbiţa, alone in her fear for her own future if the procedure goes wrong. This scene stretches for almost 10 minutes, but it’s not overlong; Mungiu knows what he’s doing. If he pulled back, he’d lose momentum and we’d lose that feeling of slow, excruciating suffocation he knows we have to experience to understand this world.

There are so many other scenes worthy of marvel that they must be left to self-discovery. Except this one: Mungiu presents a brief shot of Marinca, naked from the waist down, sitting in the hotel bathtub. While any other director would zoom in on her face, close in on the drama, this director stays back. Why? It is a moment of private humiliation, a moment we are not allowed to see. But because of Mungiu’s camera, we feel it.